It’s cheering to see the Chief Coroner is backing a decision against holding an inquest into the alleged bullying-suicide of a gay soldier.
Judge Neil MacLean (see here) has endorsed Coroner Gordon Matenga’s decision not to hold an inquest and to rely solely on the Army’s Court of Inquiry into the suicide of Corporal Douglas Hughes in Afghanistan in April, 2012.
Corporal Hughes’ death followed a confrontation with a sergeant about his feelings for a fellow soldier.
Questions were raised about Matenga’s judgement in deciding against an inquest because he had made submissions in opposition to the Marriage Amendment Bill which seeks to legalise gay marriage.
Exactly what significance we should attach to his views on gay marriage is a mystery.
As Judge MacLean said, coroners are entitled to personal opinions and he could see no connection between Matenga’s personal views and the decision not to have an inquest.
It was common practice to forego an inquest when another agency had conducted a thorough investigation, he said.
That’s one consideration in favour of Matenga’s ruling.
But here’s another: if personal opinions were to be a factor in what coroners can do, all sorts of problems would be raised.
Should those of them who are teetotal steer clear of inquests where alcohol was involved in the demise of the deceased?
Or should a greenie-leaning coroner be allowed to conduct an inquest into the death of someone killed toppling trees?
And so on…
The Boss has had the good sense to be circumspect.
He has noted there were significant suppression orders around the case.
“All I can say is I am confident that the military has a robust process for dealing with gay and lesbian employees, that they have a clear code conduct, and it’s my expectations that they honour their legal requirements.”
He said there was nothing else he could say.